The First Step…

My own journey to better health began about a year and a half ago when I finally admitted to myself that something wasn’t right. I was overweight, my blood pressure and cholesterol were trending up and more importantly, I didn’t feel good.  Ironically, as a medical doctor, it was my job to make people healthier.   I decided that I wanted to make a change.  I wasn’t sure how or even what, I just knew that I had to do something.

I needed a tangible first step, and it was only after reading Michael Pollan’s books and watching the film Food, Inc that I found what felt right to me:  my wife Emily and I decided to purchase only locally-raised, grass-fed meats and locally-grown produce for our family of four.  That one decision, that one conscious commitment, has led us on a food journey that has had unbelievable consequences in our lives and my work.

Buying only locally-raised meats and produce from small family farms wasn’t easy or convenient.  We ate meat less often simply because there was not enough supply available to have meat at every meal.  When we did have meat, it was no longer the center of our plate.  After visiting one of these ranches, I knew that we had made the right choice.  This was the first time that I felt truly connected to my food and appreciated where it came from.

With the combination of local foods and less meat, I began losing a lot of weight.  Not surprisingly, I felt dramatically better.  I knew we were on the right track and wanted to keep evolving the journey of dietary change.  We started to choose the rest of our foods very carefully and completely eliminated processed foods.  After reading The China Study and watching Forks Over Knives, came the biggest step of all: as a family, we now follow a mostly plant-based diet.   As our eating habits changed, I lost even more weight (over 100 pounds to date); as a result, my blood pressure is lower, my blood sugar is lower, my cholesterol is lower, my energy is higher, I can focus better — I am now healthier and feel healthier.

Before   After

Until I watched Forks Over Knives, I never thought of using food as a healing tool in my medical practice.  After seeing the doctors in the movie put the whole foods, mostly plants philosophy into their practice with great results, it became a challenge for me to see if I could do the same with my patients.  I had proof that I could heal myself but now I wanted to see if I could heal my patients without my prescription pad.

Inspired by Forks Over Knives and my own journey, I decided to incorporate food as medicine into my practice.  I chose a few patients who I thought would be receptive and gave them each a copy of the movie.  Not surprisingly, most patients couldn’t wait for their next appointment to tell me how they had already changed their eating habits and had started spreading the Forks Over Knives message to anyone who would listen.

After six months, I have patients with histories of long-term medical issues who have been cured by food; most of these patients’ symptoms and test results were so severe that most doctors wouldn’t have given them the chance to heal themselves.

One patient, a 36-year-old man, came to see me complaining of fatigue and extreme thirst.  He was diagnosed during the visit with diabetes and chose to try a plant-based diet instead of medicine.  Here are his test results:

  Before (Nov 2011) After (March 2012)
Weight 194 lbs 145 lbs
Fasting blood sugar 143 84
Triglycerides 144 76
LDL (bad cholesterol) 51 34
HgbA1c[1] 9.8 5.2

After four months of treatment without medicine, this patient is no longer diabetic.

Another patient, a 46-year-old man complaining of fatigue and frequent urination, also chose a plant- based diet over medications to see what could happen.

  Before (Nov 2011) After (March 2012)
Weight 226 lbs 218 lbs
Triglycerides 1148 413
Total Cholesterol 468 217
HgbA1c 10.3 6.6

For this patient, his diabetes is also just about gone.  He feels great and is not taking any medications.

As an internist, I value the technology and diagnostic tools I have available and still believe that sometimes we need medicine to cure the sick, but medical school did not teach me about healing with nutrition, about the direct and immediate connection between what we eat and how we feel or how healthy we are.  Now, the focus of my medical practice and student teaching is on bridging that great divide and starting the journey to health with food.

[1] HgbA1c measures average blood sugar.  In a person who is diabetic, HgbA1c is >6.4.

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